N. Korean stimulant smuggling networks extend to Japan, South Korea


Networks for smuggling North Korean-made stimulants, chiefly via border areas of northeastern China, are reaching Japan and South Korea, studies by Chinese scholars have found.

China’s public security authorities have stepped up crackdowns on narcotics crime groups that closely link North Koreans, Chinese, including those of Korean descent, Japanese and South Koreans.

Japanese, South Korean and North Korean drug smugglers who were recently executed in China are seen as just the tip of the iceberg.

According to a research paper published in 2010 by Cui Junyong of Yanbian University School of Law in Jilin province’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, the number of people registered as regular users of drugs in Yanji, capital of the province, soared 47 times in about 10 years from 1995.

In 2007, a Chinese magazine quoted a public security official in the autonomous prefecture as saying that more than 90 percent of stimulants and opium in the prefecture were sourced from North Korea.

Cui said Yanbian is a key trading hub for stimulants produced illegally in North Korea and smuggled into China. In many cases, North Koreans illegally enter China and make contact with Koreans in the country to sell drugs to South Korean people, Cui said.

According to Cui, major smuggling routes connecting Yanbian with South Korea include flights from Yanji Chaoyangchuan Airport to South Korea’s Incheon and Busan airports. Another route is said to go into Russia via a ground checkpoint in the autonomous prefecture’s Hunchun near the China-Russia border and then by sea from Russia’s Zarubino port to South Korea’s Sokcho port.

As of January, a total of 44 Japanese people were in custody or serving prison terms for drug smuggling or possession, after four were executed in 2010, according to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing. Another Japanese national was executed in Dalian, Liaoning province, in late July.

Many of them were detained at airports while attempting to transport stimulants to Japan. A drug trafficking ring with links to Japanese crime syndicates may have been involved in these attempts.

Stimulants handled by Japanese couriers are believed to be made mostly in North Korea. Mitsunobu Akano, who was arrested in Dalian in 2006 and executed in 2010, is thought to have worked with Koreans in China and South Koreans, as well as smugglers in North Korea.

A senior official of the Public Security Department of Zhejiang province said in a research paper that drug couriers enter China by land while hiding stimulants in cargo or sell drugs near the border with China. Such contraband drugs are smuggled to Japan and South Korea by way of Shenyang and Dalian, the official said.

Chinese authorities discovered a marine smuggling route from North Korea to China in 2009. According to Chinese media, authorities in Shanghai and Zhejiang province seized some 9.8 kg of stimulants from North Korea as well as the ship used to transport the drugs, and detained seven people.

Zhang Li, associate professor at People’s Public Security University of China, said in a research paper in 2012 that stimulants made in North Korea are taken out by sea to China’s eastern provinces of Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang and then transferred to other ships at ports there or in nearby waters for shipment to South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan.